Gareth Bale said the “heart and desire” shown by Wales was key to their World Cup qualifying win against the Czech Republic on Tuesday, with Dan James’ late header securing the 1-0 victory in Cardiff.
Captain Bale crossed for James to head home the only goal of the game nine minutes from the final whistle, as Wales responded to their opening defeat by Belgium with their first win of the qualifying campaign for next year’s tournament in Qatar.
Both sides were reduced to 10 men in the second half, Patrik Schick receiving a red card for the Czech Republic and Wales defender Connor Roberts also being sent off.
“It was a massive result, we didn’t get off to the best start against Belgium, so it was massively important to get the win,” Bale told Sky Sports after Manchester United winger James had scored the first headed goal of his senior career.
“We showed a lot of heart and desire to match a very physical team.
“It was very chaotic, especially second half, but we were ready and kept going until the end and the most important thing is to get that winner. We need to win games to qualify and we want to win every game, football doesn’t always go the way you expect it to.”
Victory gave Wales five consecutive home competitive wins for the first time since March 1993 under Terry Yorath.
It has also been achieved without manager Ryan Giggs, who has missed the last two international camps, with Robert Page put in caretaker charge. Giggs was arrested at the start of November on suspicion of assault, allegations which he denies, and has been bailed until 1 May.
“Pagey has kept us focused despite what is going on off the field,” Bale said. “The win is just what we needed. We were focused and we stuck to our gameplan and got the win.”
Page has had a difficult week, with Hal Robson-Kanu, Rabbi Matondo and Tyler Roberts sent back to their clubs on Monday after breaching Football Association of Wales protocols.
But Page said: “It’s not tough when you’ve got a group of players like we’ve got. They’ve been first class since November from when I took over in temporary charge.
“I didn’t expect Dan to score with a header, but what a goal. And Joe Rodon’s block at the end was as good as a goal. That’s what defenders do. Sometimes you’ve got to throw your body on the line and what a block it was.”
Czech Republic manager Jaroslav Silhavy criticised Schick for lashing out at Roberts and seeing red three minutes into the second half.
“He is an experienced player and he can not raise his hand like that,” said Silhavy, whose Czech side had opened their Group E campaign with victory over Estonia and a draw with section favourites Belgium.
“I am going to scold him a little bit because I think this influenced the match a lot. In the second half we could not press on, even if we conceded the goal when it was 10 against 10.
“We let Bale get in the cross and James was not covered. It’s a pity. We had chances at the end, but unfortunately we did not have time to score and overturn the result.”
Roberts was sent off 13 minutes from time after collecting a second booking.